There once lived a poor man who, when travelling through a strange land in search of a place to call home, found himself desperately hungry and without the means to buy even the tiniest morsel.
It was as he neared his wits' end and was about to lie down in a ditch and await death, that a wealthy lord rode past on horseback. "Sir," called the poor man from the side of the road, "Could you please spare a loaf of bread or a few coppers that I might buy myself a meal?"
When the lord heard his voice he stopped his horse and leapt down, and beholding the poor man his eyes lit up and he ran to him, tenderly enfolding him in his arms. "My son!" cried the lord, "Long have I sought you, riding tirelessly day and night in the hope of being reunited with you. Perhaps you do not know it, for a temporary madness robbed you of your memory and drove you from our home, but you are my son and heir. Come back with me to my palace, where a great feast awaits you and your mother sits anxiously hoping for your safe return."
The poor man pulled away from the embrace, shook his head in confusion and asked again, "But have you no bread or coppers for a poor man, sir?"
"No, son, I have come to take you home, where a feast and a fortune are yours!"
"No bread, no coppers," the poor man said with eyes downcast, and shrugging his shoulders with sorry resignation, lay down in the ditch.
The story makes no sense. Why would the poor man persist in seeking so small a blessing when a prize infinitely greater and more rightly his is offered? Yet it is not so strange as you might think, because we all of us do the same with God.
After the feeding of the five thousand, the people followed Jesus for all the wrong reasons. It isn't that they demanded too much of Him, but that they did not demand nearly enough, asking for temporary natural comfort and security from the One Who alone could bestow on them the eternal blessedness of Heaven. But God does not know how to give sparingly; He only ever gives the very best, for His infinite power is matched only by His everlasting love. He therefore invited them to hunger instead for the bread that will last: Jesus Himself.
If you would take your seat at this banquet, you must believe in the One God has sent - not in His power or His providence, but in His very self. And by 'believe' I do not simply mean an intellectual assent to an idea, but an active, willful confidence in Him, the deliberate placing of Him at the centre of all things. Believe in Jesus, not in the bread He could give you, not in the blessings He might provide, not in the consequences of His life as it touches yours, but in Jesus Christ Himself, infinitely greater than bread, wine, gold, tea or even Heaven.
Eternal life, sharing in the unending bliss of the angels and saints, is not therefore the greatest gift we can hope for, and if that is all we ask for we are still acting with the confusion of the poor madman in our story. Rather, eternal life is the result and enjoyment of that greatest gift.
Jesus, the Son of God and God Himself is the greatest possible gift. He is the Bread of Life - really and truly, for His Flesh is real food and His Blood is real drink as we shall read further on in the passage. As difficult as it is to believe, at the heart of the Good News there lies the truth that God desires to bless us with all His own fullness (Ephesians 3: 19), and when we hold back in false humility from believing His promises as being too good to be true, we grieve Him, our hearts are astray and we do not know His ways (Psalm 94 (95): 10).
Why settle, then, with anything less than Jesus Himself? When God has given you Jesus, He has given you everything! Not to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion is to 'interpret' ourselves around the Lord's unambiguous promises and impose our own pessimism and lack of faith on His holy words.
Believe in the One God has sent, and receive Him as your unmerited reward. If you struggle to believe that He truly is the Bread of Life, as present in the Eucharist as He was when He walked through the streets of Capernaum, do not be troubled. You need only ask Him for faith with a sincere and willing heart and you will certainly receive it - for how can God deny you that or any other gift, when He so willingly offers you His only Son?